This week, you may have heard about results of a new studying on bullying released by the U.S. Department of Education. The study was commissioned by the feds to gain information about the existence and strength of bullying laws and policies in schools districts in all 50 states.
The results of the study are decidedly mixed. While most states and school districts today have some form of anti-bullying measures, some don't go far enough—or carry much weight when it comes to enforcement or punishment.
“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a statement issued Dec. 6 when the study was released. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”
Called the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, the 200+ page pdf of the report is available here for those who'd like to tackle the government tome. For the rest of us, SchoolFamily.com has done the heavy lifting, culling the most important details and presenting them here for our readers.
The defining moment for the beginning of state bullying legislation and school district policy on bullying began right after the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In fact, due to the events at Columbine—and in relation to a local bullying-related suicide—the state of Georgia became the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to implement bullying prevention programs. From there, the following breakdown shows how others states have responded with their own policies, according to the study:
- From 1999 to 2010: More than 120 bills enacted by state legislatures either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
- In 2010: 21 new bills were passed.
- In 2011: 8 additional bills were passed as of April 30, 2011.
- From 2006 to 2010: 35 states enacted new laws regarding cyber bullying.
- Only two states—Montana and South Dakota—remain without bullying laws (Note: At the time of the study, Hawaii and Michigan were both listed as states not having anti-bullying laws; however, Hawaii passed bullying legislation in July 2011, and earlier this month, Michigan did as well).
It’s also worth noting that as of April 2011, Texas was the only state without any requirement for schools to create bullying or harassment policies. That changed in June 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation requiring Texas public school districts to create and adopt formal bullying policies.
Key Findings of the Study: What's Up With Bullying Laws in States?
- 46 states have some type of bullying laws—but three of those states prohibit bullying without actually defining the behavior that’s prohibited.
- 36 states prohibit cyber bullying
- 13 states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.
- States with the most expansive anti-bullying legislation have school districts with the most expansive anti-bullying policies. However, there were some school districts located in states with less expansive laws that expanded their policies beyond the state’s minimum legal expectations.
School Violence and Student Safety
The Department of Education’s study noted that the most recent survey on school violence and student safety is one conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That survey measured the frequency of bullying at schools as reported by school administrators, and came up with these findings:
- 39 percent of middle school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
- 20 percent of elementary and high school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
- 19 percent of middle schools and 18 percent of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyber bullying, either at school or away from school.
The NCES survey also measured how often students ages 12-18 were the target of bullying during the past school year:
- 21 percent of said they had been made fun of by their peers
- 18 percent said they’d been the subject of rumors
- 11 percent said they’d been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
- 6 percent said they had been threatened with harm
The NCES survey reported that 4 percent of students age 12-18 reported having been cyber bullied in the year prior to the study. In addition, according to other related studies, up to 20 percent of all students age 11–18 may have been cyber bullied at some time. And in a 2010 study, the same percentage of students—20 percent—reported having been involved in the cyber bullying of other youths.
Being Teased and “Ignored On Purpose”
School surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that bullying is higher among those in elementary and middle school. Of more than 11,000 elementary and middle school students surveyed, 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they’d been “teased in a mean way,” while 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys said they’d been threatened with physical harm. An ostracizing form of bullying—being “ignored on purpose”—was reported by 46 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys.
Effects of Bullying
Earlier studies show a correlation between bullying and poor psychosocial adjustment in children, according to the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies. A 2001 study showed that students who were bullied had difficulty making friends, experienced poorer relationships with peers, and felt an increased sense of loneliness.
Other research shows that bullied students have increased anxiety levels, psychosomatic symptoms, and experience higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems. Youths who are bullied have also been shown to be at greater risk of developing poor self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Studies show that children who are chronically bullied have lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems.
For complete details on the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies study, visit the study at ed.gov.